Hilton Head SC History

By: Terry Parker

Hilton Head SC is located about 90 miles south of Charleston and 20 miles north of Savannah and is the site of miles of great Atlantic Coast beachfront and tourism throughout most of the year. An estimated 2.25 million visitors come to the area each year, particularly during the peak summer season. The island is also home to many endangered species of birds and other animals, including the Leatherback turtle.

The islands first occupants were indigenous Native Americans and the area was not extensively populated until the Sea Island Cotton Trade between Europe and the United States. The first recorded expedition to the area took place in 1521 and was led by Francisco Cordillo. In 1663 Captain William Hilton passed through the area during his expedition from Barbados and named the area after himself.

A few years after the Sea Island Cotton Trade, the area served as an important base of operations for the Union blockade of Southern ports during the Civil War. A large Union hospital was built on Hilton Head, and became one of the most prominent in the area. Once the island came under the control of the North, many former slaves settled in the area. Descendants of these freed slaves are known as native islanders or the Gullah. Many of their ancestors served in the First Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers, which promised volunteers the opportunity to buy land, go to school, and live in government housing in a community on the island called Mitchelville.

Hilton Head SC was the site of an experimental steam cannon set up to guard Port Royal Sound in the early 1990's, and in 1931, the famed Wall Street tycoon and physicist Alfred Lee Loomis purchased over 63 percent of the total landmass of the island to use as a private game reserve. This land remained relatively undeveloped until the early 1950's, when three lumber mills were built on the island and, consequently, the James F. Byrnes Bridge was erected in 1956. This provided greater access to the island and the population quickly expanded. At this time same time, architect Charles Fraser developed Sea Pines Resort and the famous Harbour Town. Fraser was a committed environmentalist, and his legacy of sustainable development continues to this day.

Hilton Head SC is an area rich in natural beauty and history. There are many museums and historical sites open to the public that you can visit during your next Hilton Head Island vacation.

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